Montanans understand that sprawl is negatively impacting our lives. We’re spending more time in our cars, traveling further to get outside of town, watching our favorite vistas disappear behind walls of new houses and pavement. Nouveau ranchettes scatter houses across wildlife habitat and floodplain valleys at a density of one house per twenty acres. The roads, power lines and septic fields associated with each of those houses also take their toll on the environment. We no longer know our neighbors.

In response, the Montana Smart Growth Coalition was formed in November 1999. The Coalition is a network of organizations and individuals from across Montana that advocates for progressive policies regarding land use, transportation, housing, sustainable agriculture, conservation of habitat, cultural diversity, economic equity and the environment.

The Coalition was formed following the first-ever statewide conference on growth, “Big Sky or Big Sprawl,” held in November 1998. Attracting 350 citizens and groups from around the state, the conference far exceeded the expectations of conference organizers. It was testimony to the mounting concern about growth and its impacts on Montana’s communities and environment.

MEIC and other “Big Sky or Big Sprawl” organizers are working to tackle subdivision, sprawl, and the impacts of growth in Montana, ranging from the loss of main street vitality to increased congestion and dependence on cars to reductions in wildlife habitat and environmental quality. The Smart Growth Coalition aims to develop alternatives to the broken policies, uninformed decisions, and ill-conceived development plans that are eating away at Montanans’ quality of life.

Coalition goals include:

  • educating the public about what smart growth means;
  • improving statewide land-use policies; and
  • fostering understanding about the economic and social benefits of smart growth.

As its first initiative, the Coalition contracted with the American Planning Association (APA) to study Montana’s current land-use laws and recommend changes. Specifically, the APA will determine whether land-use laws are working as they were intended, whether enforcement and oversight of those laws is adequate, and whether incentives exist that encourage inappropriate development. Based on the APA findings, the Coalition will begin working across the state and at the Capitol to reform land-use policies so that they encourage better land-use planning.

In addition to policy work, Smart Growth Coalition members are launching public education and awareness efforts, to better inform the general public, developers, and decision-makers about smart growth. Examples abound of developments that create net gains for communities. Borrowing from those examples, Montana citizens can cooperate with local decision-makers to shape the future growth to support their community vision.

The Montana Smart Growth Coalition members represent a broad range of interests, including environmental groups, planners, local officials, agricultural groups, downtown economic vitality interests, developers, and affordable housing advocates. While an unlikely coalition, all members of this group recognize that bad land-use decisions affect all of our interests, and that common solutions will only come from working together.